Review by ZDRich

"All the more reason to scream "STAR POWERRRRR" to strangers online."

Let's talk about Music. In fact, let's talk about Rock. Rock is good. It's the white man's rap, you know? We trade in the emphasis on gangly rhymes for shredding guitar riffs and blasting away on the grandiose figure of the drum set. And one of those two things is what Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock is all about. Shredding it on the good ol' 5 button. But there's something different this time around. There's a new heart to this Guitar Hero. It's like that friend you haven't seen for a year, who shows up on your doorstep again with a completely new attitude to him. What has happened to the 3rd installment to make me use analogies I can't fully flesh out because I'm fairly certain GameFAQS won't allow it? And is it still good?

The thing that could make any veteran of the first two titles suspicious of a decline of quality is the developer change. Whereas GH I & II were developed by rhythm game virtuosos Harmonix, GH III's developing duties were handed to Neversoft, whom everyone knows for the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater (or whatever they call it these days) series, after parent company Antivision acquired Red Octane, who holds the Guitar Hero name, and MTV took control of Harmonix, who took all of their source code with them, and got to work on Rock Band. This left Neversoft to make this installment from scratch, and build it in whatever way they could care to do so. This left many gamers, including myself, in a pro-Rock Band camp, and it was actually until about a month before the games launch that I actually started paying attention to this title. By Jove, I'm glad I did. Neversoft followed an “If it ain't broke, don't fix it” ideology to this installment, and it works wonderfully. Outside of a few changes to the game's presentation, and a few new features, Guitar Hero III is just as good as Harmonix's installments were, and if the song list fits your fancy more than the first twos, then it's likely even better.

First thing's first; The guitar. The X-Box 360 version of Guitar Hero III is bundled with a Wireless rendition of the Gibson Les Paul Guitar. I'm not sparing any words when I say that this is the best fake Guitar yet. When you throw it on, you can absolutely feel that it's a bit bulkier than the Cherry Red SB, or the Flying V, but it's something you'll get used to quickly. The buttons are very responsive and the strum bar is at the perfect balance of being flimsy and sturdy, making it so easy to nail the lines of 32nd notes for 25 measures. There's no break with the commutation between the controller and the 360 for a second like some third-party controllers do, so don't worry about breaking chains for no reason. My only issue, and this only applies to players who play on lefty flip, is that the Dashboard and X-Box Guide is only controllable as Righty Flip, so be ready to learn Left is Right and Up is Down if you're navigating out-of-context menus.

Let's start by discussing the playable Guitar Heroes themselves. Once again, there's no customization here. You can look to Rock Band for that. What you do get is most (MOST) of the original rockers from the first two titles, and a handful of unlockables you can buy from the shop. The characters all look as good as ever and all continue to represent their sub-cultures in Rock n' Roll. Axel Steel still wears a Denim Jacket, and Casey Lynch will still give you nightmares with all his Sparkling beauty. New to the cast this time around is Midori. A being injected with so much Japculture, that only those who enjoy spending their days watching hours of their Naturo dub will actually choose her for play. But all of those loveable rifters are kind of going to be overshadowed (Besides the Grim Ripper, who will always have a place in my heart.) by the first of the games new additions. The LEGENDS. THE LEGENDS OF ROCK. But we'll get into that in a little bit. Most of the characters have alternate costumes and colors you can unlock in the shop, but once again, everyone's going to want to play as the LEGENDS.

One of the problems everyone seems to have with some games these days in in-game advertising all over the place. Personally, it's never really bothered me, and it doesn't really bother me here either. There are 8 venues to play in this time around, including a backyard Tiki party, a Prison, a Japanese Megadome, and a Medieval-Themed arena in England. There are a few stages that are littered with ads for anything ranging from Pontiac cars, to McDonalds latest plans for that beautiful Dollar Value menu. Is this really something to critise the game over? That people need money so we can keep getting good games like this? Honestly, who really pays attention to the background when there are 25 million notes flying at you at 300 BPM? The arenas are still very nicely detailed, and look beautiful if you're one to actually pay attention to that. Which likely means you're playing on easy, right? Oh, you noob.

Let's move to the carrier mode. In essence, it appears to be the same as it is ever. BUT NOT SO! The first thing you'll notice are the less than a minute long shorts that give the game a little bit of a story as your band makes it's way from venue to venue. These are nice to look at and very well drawn, fitting the mood and theme of the game well. Just like in GH II's Carrier, you'll play through 8 Tiers, with 4 songs in each, as well as a 5th song to serve as the Encore song at the end of the set. The big change this time around are the Boss Battles. Yes, that's right, there are BOSS BATTLES. Hey, if Mario Kart and Monkey Ball can have them, so can Guitar Hero, right? Right! And thankfully, there pretty awesome.

First, the bad news. There's only 3 of these battles (In the 2nd, 5th, and Final Tiers), so although these are some of the highest points in the Carrier, there's simply not enough of them. But that's about all that sucks about them. 2 of the Bosses are those LEGENDS I was talking about earlier. Tom Morillo (Rage Against the Machine), and Slash (Guns N' Roses/Velvet Revolver) will show up right before your encore song and CHALLENGE YOU TO A BATTLE. AN EPIC SHRED OFF WHERE THE LOSER CAN NEVER GRAB AN AXE AGAIN. Or not. The boss battle plays like a Battle Mode game in multiplayer, a new mode in the game that I'll get into later. The songs are actually original compositions by the bosses themselves, and both are a blast to jam to. The first two aren't necessary to complete to finish the Carrier mode. After losing 3 times, you can opt to “wuss out”, and skip the battle, then play the set's encore with Tom or Slash playing one of their classics as back up (“Bulls on Parade” and “Welcome to the Jungle”, respectfully.) The final battle is the biggest thing you could call as a “plot twist” to the game's story, so I'll keep that a secret. The song though is a remake of the Charlie Daniels Band's “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”, replacing the fiddle with hardcore Guitar riffs. That's AWESOME.

Not only is there a single player Carrier though, but there's also a CO-OP CAMPAIGN! That's right! Now you and your buddy can play co-op with a whole new meaning! The cool thing though, is that you'll need to play through this to see all this game has to offer, including the song list. 6 of the games songs are only unlockable by playing the Campaign, as they serve as the mode's encore songs. There's only 6 tiers in this mode, and no bosses, but the sets and stages are jumbled in a new order, and there's a different storyline to play through, making playing through this mode extremely worthwhile. You need a local buddy to play this though. There is no online support for Campaign, and there likely will never be. Quickplay is still there for those who love having a top 5 score list.

Now, playing through the Carrier and Campaign to unlock all the songs is great and all, but are the songs worth unlocking? HELL YEAH THEY ARE. Guitar Hero III's soundtrack is easily the best the series has offered so far, representing some of the best in the past 4 or 5 decades of Rock. The library is wide and broad, with the game packing 71 playable songs off the disk, and not even counting the available downloadable content (Which, once again, I'll get into later.) One of the big achievements of this soundtrack is the number of original recordings the game offers; 51, as well as re-recordings of The Sex Pistols “Anarchy in the UK”, and Living Colour's “Cult of Personality”, as the originals were nowhere to be found. That's a lot of effort those two songs alone in, as the Sex Pistols haven't been in the recording studio for decades. The list includes many heavily requested artists, including The Smashing Pumpkins (“Cherub Rock”), Metalica (“One”), Slipknot (“Before I Forget”), Tenacious D (“The Metal”), and Weezer (“My Name is Jonas”), joining many I & II alumni's like Kiss (“Rock and Roll All Nite”), and the Red Hot Chili Peppers (“Suck my Kiss”), and some surprises on the roster, like Bloc Party (“Helicopter”), Matchbook Romance (“Monsters”), and Disturbed (“Stricken”). The 25 Bonus tracks are also fun this time around, and for the most part (Beastie Boys? What?!) this song list is Killer(s, “When You Were Young”).

So, the songs are good, but is the gameplay itself good? Like I said, Neversoft took an “If it ain't broke, don't fix it” ideology to this game. The game plays as well as it did previously, although harder. MUCH HARDER. I mean, it gets to a point where Expert is about 4 times as hard as expert in II was, and 5738 times as hard as expert in I. It gets to the point where you will not have friends anymore once you beat some songs. I'm not going to sit here and write a big ol' spheill on how you play the game. If you don't know what Guitar Hero is, how it's played, or any of the songs that have ever been included in the 4 titles in the series, you're very oblivious to current American Culture, and you're likely stuck in the 20's. When something becomes so big that the entire thing is parodied on South Park, you don't need a 17 year old guy on the internets explaining just how well this game plays. Anyone who liked the last 3 will love this one. They will just have to expect a much harder experience. Yes, Dragonforces' “Through The Fire and Flames” will hand you your ass on a silver platter only seconds into the opening riff (On HARD. Don't even talk to me about doing it on Expert.). Usually, an increase in difficulty is very much welcomed into the future installments of a franchise, and this is for the most part, very welcome. The big issue here is exactly how hard it can be to acquire Star Power. The combos needed can last as long as 4 measures, with more than 20 notes in them, and half the time, if you can gain the Star Power, you can likely finish the song as well. This gets very frustrating on songs where just a simple saving grace could save you (Hello, “Raining Blood”.). It's a small dose of Fake Difficulty, but it's not something that will kill off the dedicated. The Practice mode is still there for help, and you can actually zip right to it if you happen to fail a song during Carrier. It's a handy touch to make the mode better known to every fake shredder in the world.

Speaking of the world, Guitar Hero III allows you to play against the world as well! For a feature that should have been included in the 360 remake of GH II, III's Multiplayer works great online, incorporating Voice Chat during games, so that you can scream “STAR POWER!!” over the internets to the random stranger in Co-Op games. My big issue with the online interface is that the game sends you right back to the lobby at the end of each game. If you want to play with someone again, you need to invite them into another game. If can become a hassle, as I've found connection issues with the game constantly. It also doesn't match the thrill of having your friends next to you, but what are you going to do? It's the internets. Learn to love it.

Multiplayer includes the same ol' Face Off, Pro-Face Off, and Co-Op mode, and adds Battle Mode to the mix. This is the love child of Guitar Hero and Mario Kart, were Star Power is replaced by power-ups to mess your foe with. The first to fail loses, simple as that. Power-ups include temporary making notes disappear from the board, switching a Righty Flip player to Lefty, Ramping the difficulty up for a little bit, and doubling the notes needed to be played. One power up that can be absolutely lethal though, especially early, is the Whammy Bar, where the player needs to fiddle with the bar in order to play notes again. In big solos with a lot of notes, this could easily send someone with full life down to nothing, and especially hurts players who play lefty, who needs to move their hand to fiddle with the bar. It's a fun addition, but I'm one to usually just stick with Pro-Face Off.

So, there's everything you get in the Box. Even without any downloadable content, Guitar Hero III is already a must-buy. But there are some out there who always need more. More music to rock to. Is there anything that could quench your thirst? Well, it's a good idea to get the 360 version, because it seems like Neversoft favors Microsoft's bouncing baby boy. As of 11/22, there are 4 bonus packs on XBLM. The first two are bonus packs featuring music from Velvet Revolver (“Slither”, “She Builds Quick Machines”, and “Messages”), and GHII Alumni Foo Fighters (“All My Life”, “This Is a Call”, and “The Pretender”), Priced at 500 MS Points each, which is about $6.25. You might say that a price like that is likely only for those who really love those artists, or simply need more music, but then there are a few freebies! Although originally nixed to be used outside of Carrier Mode, the Boss Battle Track Pack allows you to use the 3 boss songs in Quickplay and Multiplayer, for free! And if that's not cool enough, the Halo Theme (MJOLNIR Mix) is also available for free and only on the 360. It's a no-brainer that you should go right for the Downloadable content menu and get those NOW. You'll be glad you did.

Only if you're a real sticker for detail you'll be disappointed by Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock. It's as solid of an addition to the franchise as if Harmonix were still developing it, and although it may have a bit of a shiny now coat of paint waxed all over it, it's still the same game. It's no wonder why this game has been a hit with our cultures; that people throw parties where this is the main attraction, or gets mentioned on some of the most popular shows on Television today. It's fun. It's enjoyable, and there's so little that's flawed to it, that it's easy to forgive for including Beastie Boys on it's setlist, and that Bret Michaels shows up for ten seconds to sing “Talk Dirty of Me”. It's easy to forgive for the few boss battles the game offers, and it's ok that you still lack AC-DC and Led Zepillin. There's too much that's good here to let anything really be called a fatal flaw, and it's a piece of software that will leave you rocking into the night for months to come. Am I still going to buy Rock Band? Hell yes I will! You ask if Rock Band will be better, but GHIII offers something Rock Band can't (Awesome Guitar Solos!), and Rock Band offers stuff GHIII can't deliver (Drums and Vocals, duh.). For everything this game does, it does it brilliantly, and for everything Neversoft has done to make this a brilliant game, the world thanks them for it.

Make sure you buy it on the 360 though. Halo Theme FTW.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 11/26/07

Game Release: Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (w/Guitar) (US, 10/28/07)

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